Chris Salgardo believes men need a guiding force when it comes to skincare — and he wants to fill that role.
This week, Salgardo, who led Kiehl’s for more than a decade, is launching Atwater, a men’s skincare brand. The brand launches with a small suite of products: a face moisturizer, an eye cream, a face scrub, a lip balm, face and body cleansing bars, and a shaving cream. It will sell both on its own e-commerce site as well as at Nordstrom, both online and in-store.
Atwater joins a once sleepy men’s skincare category that has seen a jolt of product innovation as well as investor and consumer interest in recent years. Once relegated to drugstore shelves, a growing number of brands are taking a higher approach, including Reyal Performance from 2021, Hetime in 2020 and Caldera + Lab in 2019. Harry’s, which gave razors the direct-to-consumer makeover in in the early 2010s, launched a men’s skincare line in July 2021. As of June 2022, US men’s skincare dollar volume was $127 million, up from 9% year over year.
Male celebrities and influencers are also talking more about their skin, unlike the past decade, when the biggest names in male beauty, including James Charles, Gabriel Zamora and Manny Gutierrez, focused more on makeup. Influencer Hyram Yarbro has become a household name, with over 6 million followers on TikTok, and launched his skincare brand, Selfless by Hyram, in 2021, although it doesn’t specifically target men in its marketing. Emilio Quezada Ibañez and Evan Shinn, host the Dewy Dudes podcast focused on men’s skincare. John Legend has announced plans to launch a skincare line for people of color earlier this year.
What Salgado brings that most of its rivals don’t: decades of experience in the beauty industry. Salgardo started working in a Chanel makeup counter as a teenager in 1986 before moving into sales. He spent 10 years with the brand before joining L’Oréal in 2000, where he led Kiehl’s from 2006 to 2017. (He remained a brand ambassador until 2018.)
He said he positioned Atwater to challenge men’s default approach to skincare, which often still relies on traditional representations of masculinity, such as heavy, woody scents. Salgardo said he wanted to move away from stereotypical male marketing, focusing instead on teaching consumers about products and how they work.
“With women, there are too many brands and too many choices,” Salgardo said. “When you look at the men’s category, it looks a lot the same.”
Over the past decade, the rapid emergence of one independent beauty brand after another has seen founders transform into influencers and even celebrities. However, Salgardo thinks men’s personal care doesn’t yet have an equivalent to Glossier’s Bobbi Brown or Emily Weiss — public-profile founders who are considered experts in the field.
Even with the recent onslaught of new brands and influencers, men remain a relatively untapped market for skincare. According to Mintel, 48% of men say they would spend $16 to $31 on anti-aging treatments, and 17% of men watch at-home skincare tutorials. Still, there’s a huge untapped market: Only 22% of male consumers in the US report using moisturizer, while only 23% use facial cleansers, according to Mintel. And men’s products make up just 4% of the overall skincare market, according to NPD.
“It starts with creating someone who can be that source, the trusted person to go to,” Salgardo said.
While Salgardo has nearly 100,000 Instagram followers himself, he wants to build his brand by adopting the tactics of old-school beauty founders: having consumer-facing time, both in-store and online. Salgardo has scheduled visits to Nordstrom stores in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orange County, Calif., where he will spend the weekend interacting with consumers, showing them how to use the product and explaining how to create a routine. (That’s part of why he wanted to sell in a department store environment, where there’s a history of consumer interaction at the beauty counter, despite the chain’s waning relevance in recent years.) He also plans to d ‘ hosting Zoom sessions with consumers where he can take a similar approach virtually.
“I’ll put you at ease because you can ask me anything,” he said. “It doesn’t even have to be about Atwater, it can be ‘I have ingrown hairs’ or ‘My eyebrows look like shit’. Ask me anything, and I can probably answer it because I’ve been in this space for a long time.